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TALKING PIECES to poll members on endorsement; a new Reddit-like civic engagement app; and more.

  • Long-form: Twitter is considering offering its users a 10,000 character limit, up from 140, Kurt Wagner reports for Re/Code. More details from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, here.
  • On Slate, Will Oremus’ hot take is that this means Twitter is trying to “build a wall” to encompass stories that its users may post. “That’s because Twitter is struggling to compete with rivals like Snapchat, Instagram, and Tumblr, all of which are designed to keep users in rather than continually sending them out to the broader Web to view content,” he writes.
  • Tech and the presidentials: Donald Trump may appear to be winging his campaign, only beginning to pour millions into traditional TV ads this week. But as Kenneth Vogel and Darren Samuelsohn report for Politico, for several months he actually has been working with “an experienced data team to build sophisticated models to transform fervor into votes.” True to form, Politico is hyping this story by calling it “Trump’s data juggernaut” but so far the operation looks more like a data rickshaw.
  • Political Action is launching a formal vote of its membership to see if should endorse a presidential candidate, starting tomorrow, its executive director Ilya Sherman announced. The group, which has an online membership of about 8 million, endorsed Barack Obama in 2008.
  • This is civic tech: Capitol Bells launched a new “Reddit-like civic engagement” mobile app yesterday, and its founder Ted Henderson celebrated with an AMA on Reddit along with Alex Ebert, the lead singer of the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, who also happens to be a civic hacker (say what?!).
  • Judging from the user comments, folks were a lot more interested in Ebert than Henderson, which is a shame because Capitol Bells’ new app is pretty intriguing. On top of giving users instantaneous updates about pending House or Senate votes, and allowing them to compare their preferences to their representatives (a trope of nearly every such app), CB also has a “Lobby” where users can anonymously post and poll each other on political gossip. (Think of that as Brigade without the real-name policy.) That said, Ebert’s new site, The New IRS, is also worth checking out. It gives users the opportunity to allocate government tax collections how they would like them to be spent and then compare that to the actual breakdown of government spending. He describes it as “a virtuality. an experience of a more powerful democracy, a talking piece, and a data collection point.”
  • Here’s Ebert’s vision (per his AMA): “Political engagement must become facile, swift, and the results must feel and be immediately tangible – just like life. tech facilitates worldwide instantaneousness – a virtual town hall the world over – meaning real participatory democracy is, now, possible.” Dude!
  • Here’s Ebert’s song for Bernie Sanders, “The Bern.” Should he stick to his day job?
  • With the unprecedented release of detailed incident-level crime data by New York City’s police department, civic hackers are starting to build some great visualizations. Here’s CivicDashboard’s interactive map showing crime by type, neighborhood, volume, and month. And here’s IQuantNY’s detailed dissection of the data.
  • You can now dive deep into the New York Public Library’s special collections of archival photographs, maps and other public domain files, as Jennifer Schuessler reports for the New York Times. Nearly 200,000 high-quality files are available for download, courtesy of NYPL Labs, along with APIs for using them more easily. Here’s a photo from the library’s collection of the entrance to Civic Hall’s 156 Fifth Ave address, from 1911. Kudos to the library for taking such an open approach!
  • mySociety’s second TICTeC 2016, its research conference on the impacts of civic tech, is taking place in Barcelona April 27-28, and the call for papers is now open.
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A report on the booming govtech market; the internet is one of the causes of Trumpism; and more.

  • Today’s civic tech must-read: The founder of the Govtech Fund, Ron Bouganim, has penned an excellent update on the state of “govtech,” which he defines as “the ‘operating system’ for government—the infrastructure and tools government agencies use everyday to do their jobs.” He says the field is booming, thanks to a number of trends including “government adoption of the cloud, budget constraints, a massive government personnel retirement cycle and an open data movement have coalesced to create an openness on the part of government agencies to embrace new technologies and a dramatically shortened sales cycle.” And he helpfully distinguishes govtech from civic tech, the “operating system” of the citizen, in which he includes “community organizing, petitions, advocacy, connecting with elected officials, politics and campaigns, the citizen journalist, and much more.”
  • Speaking of community organizing, a group of longtime feminist online organizers, including Civic Hall members Deanna Zandt of Lux Digital and Jeanne Brooks of Datakind, along with Tracy Van Slyke of Culture Lab and Sabrina Hersi Issa of Be Bold Media (longtime Personal Democracy Media friends all, I should add), have launched ShineSquad to organize a systemic response to the problem of sexual harassment and assault in social change organizations, as Juana Summers reports for Mashable. Their effort is a direct response to the collapse of FitzGibbon Media but is rooted in a much longer and largely hidden history of abuse and neglect of the issue.
  • The Sunlight Foundation’s president, Christopher Gates, is stepping down, the organization’s co-founder Michael Klein announced yesterday. Stepping in as interim executive director is longtime Sunlight policy director John Wonderlich. We wish the best of luck to them both!
  • Trump watch: Donald Trump’s new TV ad, the first of his presidential campaign, which you should not ignore because it is going to play constantly in Iowa and New Hampshire for the next few weeks, blatantly conflates being Muslim with being a terrorist, and shows ominous pictures of dark-skinned people while promising to build a border fence that “Mexico will pay for.” Despite the ad’s explicit racism, many political commentators have generally confined themselves to asking whether it will be “effective.” As if they were in the 1930s covering the German parliamentary elections like they were a normal event: Wolf Blitzer: “How do you think the new radio ad the Nazis have been running—the one where they blame the Jews for the economic collapse and Germany’s weakness in the world—is going to play as we head into the final weeks of the election, panel? Cokie Roberts: “Well, honestly Wolf, the tone is a bit strong but it’s clearly working for Adolf. German voters seem attracted to his ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ style.” Mark Halperin: “It’s just another amazing piece of work by Goebbels. He’s really got his finger on the pulse of the German electorate.” Etc. etc.
  • Or, they’ve tried to “fact-check” it, as Politifact’s C. Eugene Emery Jr. and Louis Jacobson point out, its image of people swarming a border is actually from footage of migrants trying to cross from Morocco to Spain, and marked the ad “pants on fire.” Asked about that supposed error, his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told NBC News, “No sh—it’s not the Mexican border but that’s what our country is going to look like. This was 1,000 percent on purpose.”
  • Among the “Eight Causes of Trumpism,” longtime political commentator Norman Ornstein writes in the Atlantic, one must count the internet. He blames it for “a dramatic deterioration of civil discourse and social standards” (i.e. comment pages and chat rooms where “nothing is too course or off limits anymore”), the ease with which conspiracy theorists can now engage in collective action (i.e. Here Comes Every Birther!), and the rise of echo chambers where we can “all actively seek out the information sources [we] want—and actively avoid those that provide dissonant information.”
  • Brave new world: Liberty Mutual has just launched a new partnership with Subaru, offering drivers discounts for installing and abiding by a car app that tells them when they are accelerating or braking too fast, and Brian Fung of the Washington Post uses that news to offer a warning about how these new usage-tracking technologies may also endanger drivers’ privacy, lead to new kinds of legal liabilities and potentially higher rates for non-compliance.
  • Security researchers believe a power failure that hit regional power authorities in Ukraine last week was caused by malicious code designed to sabotage industrial control systems, Dan Goodin reports for ArsTechnica. This may be the first time a cyber-attack on energy targets actually caused a blackout.